Switzerland, in central Europe, is the land of the Alps. Its tallest peak is the Dufourspitze at 15,203 feet w (4,634 m) on the Swiss side of the Italian border, one of 10 summits of the Monte Rose massif. The tallest peak in all of the Alps, Mont Blanc (15,771 ft.; 4,807 m), is actually in France. Most of Switzerland is composed of a mountainous plateau bordered by the great bulk of the Alps on the south and by the Jura Mountains on the northwest. The country's largest lakes—Geneva, Constance (Bodensee), and Maggiore—straddle the French, German-Austrian, and Italian borders, respectively. The Rhine, navigable from Basel to the North Sea, is the principal inland waterway. Switzerland is twice the size of New Jersey.
Switzerland Franc - Relative value in dollars $ .652 (June 1999)
Anthems: "Swiss Anthem"
Called Helvetia in ancient times, Switzerland in 1291 was a league of cantons in the Holy Roman Empire. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia gave Switzerland its independence from the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna guaranteed the neutrality and recognized the independence of Switzerland. In the revolutionary period of 1847, the Catholic cantons seceded and organized a separate union called the Sonderbund, but were defeated and rejoined the federation.
In 1848, the new Swiss constitution established a union modeled upon that of the U.S. The federal constitution of 1874 established a strong central government while maintaining large powers of control in each canton. National unity and political conservatism grew as the country prospered from its neutrality. Its banking system became the world's leading repository for international accounts. Strict neutrality was its policy in both world wars.
Versions of the Swiss flag were seen as early as the 12th century. In 1339 it became a symbol of the Swiss canton's in their fight with the Holy Roman Empire. The flag, much as it is today was adopted in 1848 and then updated in 1889. The cross, originally representing Christianity, has also come to represent neutrality; the flag of the International Red Cross is based on the Swiss flag.